UNITED NATIONS (AP) — North Korea on Monday sharply criticized President Donald Trump for inviting a defector to attend the State of the Union address and Vice President Mike Pence for taking the father of Otto Warmbier to the Olympics, saying this shows the U.S. is "horrified and confused" by Pyongyang's nuclear forces.
North Korea's U.N. Mission called both acts "desperate attempts" by the Trump administration to keep up "its 'human rights' racket" against the country.
While the overwhelming U.S. concern with North Korea centers on the rising threat from its nuclear weapons, the United States has been very outspoken against human rights violations in the reclusive Asian nation.
The U.S. was among the sponsors of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry that concluded in 2014 that North Korea had committed crimes against humanity. It also played a key role in getting the Security Council to take up the country's human rights record.
North Korea rejects all allegations of rights abuses and has responded with strong denunciations, especially of the U.S. In Monday's statement, the mission referred to "non-existent" rights issues in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea — the country's official name — and called the United States "the principal violator of human rights ever seen in the human history."
In recent weeks, the Trump administration has put renewed focus on the poor human rights record of North Korea's authoritarian government.
The DPRK Mission called defector Ji Seong-ho, whom Trump singled out in the State of the Union address, 'human scum." In one of that evening's most emotional moments, U.S. lawmakers cheered as Ji waved aloft the crutches he had used to escape North Korea after a train ran over his limbs.
The president also highlighted the case of Warmbier, a U.S. college student imprisoned for 15 years for stealing a propaganda poster who died days after his release last June. Pence took Warmbier's father to the opening of the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a reminder of his son's still unexplained death amid the spotlight on North Korean and South Korean athletes marching in together under the flag of a united Korea.
The North Korean statement didn't characterize Warmbier, but the mission said Trump putting a spotlight on the defector and Pence clamoring to bring Warmbier's parents to South Korea shows the U.S. is desperate, "horrified and confused by the strong measures of the DPRK to strengthen its nuclear forces."
If the U.S. wants to "browbeat" North Korea over human rights, its efforts have already proven "in vain," the mission said.
"Before it is too late, the U.S. has to recognize the world-recognized prestige of the DPRK which rapidly emerged as a strategic state," the statement said.
The DPRK Mission also criticized U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley for trying to reverse a U.N. committee's denial of accreditation to the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. It called the rejection "due punishment," saying it reflects the will of the international community not to permit "such bad behaviors of the U.S. as the 'human rights' racket against the DPRK."
Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.